Area colleges kick off preseason workouts with energetic sessions

TIGER LINE: Grambling players line up for a drill Wednesday morning during the Tigers’ first preseason practice under former NFL head coach Hue Jackson. (Photo courtesy Grambling State).

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“Excitement” and “energy” were the words of the day Wednesday as the football teams at Grambling, Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State kicked off preseason practice.

It was the first fall session for the Tigers under new head coach Hue Jackson, and for the Bulldogs led by their rookie head coach, Sonny Cumbie.  For the Demons, Brad Laird began his fifth season as head coach at his alma mater.

The workouts all were staged before lunch, avoiding the heat, but each had its self-generated intensity.

“There was a lot of excitement and emotion,” Cumbie said. “Everybody was looking forward to this first day and we just really wanted to come out and focus on improving our execution. I am really proud of how our guys practiced from an energy standpoint. There was a lot of enthusiasm from everyone, especially on the defensive side of the football.” 

Senior defensive back Jaiden Cole has played in 44 games and made 15 starts throughout his Bulldog career. Last season, he tied for fourth on the team with 48 total tackles, while his 29 solo tackles ranked fifth among all Bulldogs.

“It was nice to get out on the field and show our coaching staff what we can do,” Cole said. “On defense, Coach (Scott) Power has preached pursuing the ball, so that is one of the things we really have been focusing on. We are all happy to be back on the field playing ball. We have been talking about daily progressions and each day, and we will focus on a specific thing to improve.”

The quarterback position is one of the many changes in 2022 for Tech. Transfers Matthew Downing (RS Jr., TCU/Georgia) and Parker McNeil (RS Sr., Texas Tech, Troy, Navarro CC) headline the quarterback position. 

“Both Matthew (Downing) and Parker (McNeil) are the two that have the most experience, but that does not mean others can’t get into it. It is not a job that is decided by one play or one day,” said Cumbie, whose squad opens Sept. 3 at Missouri. “It is decided by consistency throughout fall camp and how they prepare and execute in live situations.”

The Demons gathered as a team for the first time in preparation for the Sept. 3 season opener at Montana on Wednesday, going through a roughly two-hour practice on the new turf at Turpin Stadium.

“Coaches, players, trainers, managers, everyone has to get back into the routine of making it flow throughout practice. We’ll be better Day Two. When you talk about the Xs and Os, we’ll be better Day 2,” said Laird. “There was great energy. Was it consistent energy? Probably not. I’m going to hold the older guys accountable. They talk about what they want to do. To do that, you have to be consistent and locked in for 22 periods, and that’s not always easy – but winning championships isn’t easy.”

Laird has been joined on the Demon roster by fifth-year senior defensive end Isaiah Longino since Laird returned to Northwestern State as the defensive coordinator in 2017.

For Longino, Tuesday’s practice marked his final first day of camp as a Demon – one where he is an unquestioned veteran leader on the team.

“We definitely need to get used to the conditioning,” said Longino. “It’s not the same as summer workouts, but I’m definitely happy that I took advantage of all the moments I had out there. It was good to be out there with my team.”

While Laird and Longino have been around the Demon program for years, several newcomers made impressions on the first day of camp.

“You saw guys we expect to make plays in all three phases do it,” Laird said. “Whether it was a freshman or a newcomer we’re counting on to either provide depth or have a solid role, you saw them step up and make plays.”

Grambling opened fall camp gearing up for their season opener on Sept. 3 at Arkansas State. 

With more than 130 student-athletes reporting to camp, Jackson was excited to get the first practice in the books. 

“We have a lot of guys out here competing,” Jackson said. “We got a lot of work to do. We play a game a month from today, so I am looking forward to it. We just got to keep working. We want to start getting better and be better every day.”  

Unlike at NSU and Tech, Grambling’s practices are closed to the fans and media until Aug. 13’s Fan Day scrimmage.